Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[Review] 'Avempartha' by Michael J. Sullivan

Title: Avempartha
Writer: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 344
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Second in The Riyria Revelations
Publisher: Ridan Publishing

When a destitute young woman hires two thieves to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breech the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against an unseen killer. What begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm — that could change the future of Elan.

To cite Bogart’s transcending-time line from Casablanca: ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship’. I share the same sentiment towards the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ opened my February reading with a bang and I conceived high expectations that ‘Avempartha’ would be just as good and hopefully even better. Perhaps there was slight hesitation on my part, caused by the chance that maybe the promise in book one remains a promise and that ‘Avempartha’ would suffer from the second child syndrome. But from the breathtaking cover [done by the author himself] to the last page, ‘Avempartha’ reached and surpassed all hopes and extinguished all fears.

Standing at 344 pages [according to Amazon; my edition has 321 or so] ‘Avempartha’ offers an adventurous two-day trip through the lands of Elan, escorted by your intrepid duo and their royal contacts. Despite being a second novel, ‘Avempartha’ can be read as a standalone with no discomfort on the reader’s part. It shares several similarities with ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ in the sense that both novels follow the model: heavy stage setting, followed by adrenaline packed resolution. Also the loose ties between the volumes contribute to the illusion that ‘Avempartha’ could be a series opener.

In ‘Avempartha’ we find our intrepid duo Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn on a brand assignment in the village of Dahlgren. The storyline picks up in the trading center of Colnora, where a distressed Thrace hires Riyria for a deceptively simple task, which as the story gains momentum gains greater importance and a dangerous edge. For Dahlgren is a terrorized by a beast from the wars between the elves and the humans 900 years ago. The Gilarabrywn is pure, predatory magic and each night eats a member from the Dahlgren community, which is revealed to break an ancient human-elvish peace treaty. The second storyline follows princess Arista’s life as a newly appointed ambassador to the kingdom of Melegar, now under the rule of her brother Alric. Melegar is still unsettled and Arista’s new function and acclimatization to the events following the murder of father become complicated as she bears the stain of witchcraft. In the mean time the Church of Nyphron shows interest in her as a possible pawn in their schemes and Arista is left with a moral dilemma. Two different in nature storylines entwine into one as Arista and the Church of Nyphron arrive in Dahlgren along with a larger number of strong-bodied men, both common folk and nobility, for a contest, which leads to many deaths and destruction.

I was impressed at how effortlessly both plots flowed into the big resolution, which concluded the novel with a daring well-orchestrated finale. If you think that ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ has daring escapades, then you will be highly entertained to see the struggle between the Riyria, the Dahlgren community and the Nyphron Church all together against the Gilarabrywn, which apart from being a deadly beast is also cunning, malicious and scheming. Hadrian has to face his greatest combat adversary in the Gilarabrywn, while Royce has to pick his toughest lock, yet. The stakes are high, the adrenaline pumping and anticipation soaring. As a treat in the end of the book, the reader is fed juicy details about both Hadrian and Royce’s origins, which are left as seeds for further volumes. At the same time the intrigue is also taken one level higher with the Church of Nyphron’s plans to raise a puppet emperor. Bishop Saldur is the kind of villain I love to read about and to hate, really, but his schemes and masterful orchestrations give me goose bumps and have me wondering how well he has plotted his success.

I established that the story is brilliant, the cast endearing and engaging, but ‘Avempartha’ is a testament to world building and infusing setting with some divine breath. Apart from showing the reader the lives, the strife and the mentality of the royalty, Sullivan manages to give the common folk their due in ‘Avempartha’. Dahlgren has become an inviting village I would only hope to visit in my dreams with a modest accommodation, but with honest, welcoming community. The reader can feel the small village’s pulse. All of this is organic to the story’s fabric. Sullivan also manages to color of Elan through Esra’s recollection of the elves, the wars and the purpose of the mystical and inaccessible tower of Avempartha. All information comes at even intervals similar to tides and avoids becoming tedious info dumps, but instead a hook to keep the pages turning.

Verdict: [A+] Sullivan brings out the very best in the genres, dishes it out skillfully and with artistry in a compact book, which will ensure an unforgettable and infectious reading experience. I am beyond contempt with how the Riyria Revelations are turning out. Highly recommended.


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

A+! That makes me happy.

Harry Markov said...

You have much to look forward to my friend... eh, sorry, arch-nemesis. Book three is a bit slower than the first two, but satisfying nevertheless.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

I couldn't agree with you more! Avempartha really cemented Michael's standing in Fantasy - the man needs to get signed with a big house, these books deserved to be read by everyone. :-) I agree, too, with your comment about Bk 3 - slow so far but I'm confident Michael will pick up the pace soon - wouldn't mind seeing the first large-scale battle of the Riyria Revelations. :-)

Harry Markov said...

Yeah, I wish that he did sign with a big publisher, but with Ridan he has control over his covers and these are some of the best covers I have seen. Work so well with the books.

Book three picks up the pace, but I have to say that it is more focused on politics and mind games, rather than sword swinging.

Ben said...

These books are awesome. The third book ("Nyphron Rising") is the weakest so far in my opinion but it's still great.

Harry Markov said...

Yes, but still enjoyable.

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